The World Health Organization (WHO) has released the top 10 causes of death worldwide, since 2015. While lung cancer, associated with smoking, is in the top 5 of the global killers, it turns out that “bad diets” kill more people than smoking does. The WHO does not classify unhealthy diets as a cause of death, according to World Atlas, but lifestyle-related causes of death account for more than 54% of all death globally. Essentially, poor diets can be directly linked to a majority of global causes of death every year. More specifically, NPR cites research that directly links poor diets to more than 11 million deaths a year.

For anyone that has been following the frighteningly rapid increase of obesity-related diseases, the fact that poor diets are the major cause of death worldwide should come as no surprise. What seems to bewilder people the most is what constitutes a poor diet. Is it too many carbohydrates? How about a diet high in fat? Is it as simple as just eating too many calories? The answer to these questions is yes and no. The real problem is more complex though.

As a nation and a world, we consume far too little whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables while we consume massive amounts of processed sugars, processed foods, and too much salt. In fact, carbohydrates and fats, that have long been labeled as unhealthy, are classified as macronutrients and are actually essential to our overall health and wellbeing. When I discuss these concepts with my patients, many stare at me and try to understand how sugar and fat can be both bad and good for you.

When I explain the difference between whole carbohydrates and processed carbohydrates and healthy fat versus unhealthy fat, the message becomes clearer. Processed sugar, like white sugar derived from sugar cane, and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as processed carbohydrates and meats, are not good for us. Diets that more closely resemble the Mediterranean diet, which has a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils [including olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish] are best. In fact, counties with diets most similar to this diet and have the lowest number of [diet-related] deaths.

So how does the US compare to other countries? Well, out of 195 countries, Israel, France, Spain, and Japan were all ranked among the countries with the lowest diet-related disease. China was ranked 140th and the US was ranked 43. With the enormous resources that the US has and the access to an abundance of healthy options, why is the US not ranked with the likes France and Japan?

As it turns out, having access and the resources to obtain healthy options are large obstacles for many working families. When you consider the added difficulties of the impoverished and disabled, who rely on SNAP (food stamps) benefits, the challenge becomes almost insurmountable. Further compounding the problem is the constant scrutiny placed on welfare programs. For example, right now, the Trump administration and US lawmakers are currently debating cuts to SNAP benefits.

The good news is that you, as an individual, do not have to worry about addressing the global health crisis. All you need to do is examine your own eating habits and consider what changes you could make to increase your own health and wellbeing. One easy step you can take is to eat more whole foods, typically found on the perimeter of the grocery store. Most processed foods are shelved on aisles in the core of the store. Eating less from here and more from the perimeter can have a large positive impact on your diet and health.

Lastly, Optimized Health and Wellness offers 3 different weight loss and weight management programs to help you on your journey. Our programs are based on your individual needs and offer varying levels of nutrition and exercise coaching. Reach out to our offices to find out how we can help you eat a healthier diet and be healthier overall


Aubrey, A. (2019, July). The Salt. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/04/03/709507504/bad-diets-are-responsible-for-more-deaths-than-smoking-global-study-finds

Karuga, J. (2018, May 7). Top Ten Leading Causes of Death In The World. Retrieved from World Atlas: www.worldatlas.com/articles/top-ten-leading-causes-of-death-in-the-world.html